When I was growing up my father would occasionally put his hand on my shoulder, grin at me with his deep dimpled smile and say, “You’re as handy as a pocket on a shirt.”

My father never went to college. He spent his career with Southwestern Bell, which sent him to tech school where he learned electronics and tracked the latest technology of his day, from vacuum tubes to transistors. He died of cancer of the bone marrow when he was 53, just as fiber optics and the microchip were being developed and years before the internet and cellphones. He was a blue-collar worker who grew up in the 1930s and married my mother in 1941.

In his world, few things were as useful as a “pocket on a shirt.” He carried his pens in his shirt pocket and a pack of Camel cigarettes, which was common for his generation. When he told me that I was handy as a “pocket on a shirt,” he was giving me a high compliment for being useful.

Over the years, I’ve learned the value of that compliment. Few things are as important in life as being useful. We all want to know that our lives matter, that we count.

Even King David worried about becoming useless in his old age. After all of his accomplishments, he turned his eyes to heaven and made this plea: “But don’t turn me out to pasture when I’m old or put me on the shelf when I can’t pull my weight,” (Psalm 71:9, The Message).

One of Paul’s greatest desires was to live life in such a way that he was considered useful to others. To this end, he compared himself to an athlete who endures the rigors necessary for victory. “Therefore I run in such a way as not to run aimlessly; I box in such a way, as to avoid hitting air; but I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified,” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

Peter gave us the prescription for living a useful life regardless of our profession or circumstances. “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they do not make you useless nor unproductive in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8).

A useful and productive life isn’t determined by our length of days on the Earth, or the extent of our fame and fortune. Each of us can live a useful and fruitful life when we pursue the qualities outlined by Peter with the discipline described by the Apostle Paul. If we do this, some day we will see the smiling face of God and hear his words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” (Matthew 25:21).

Bill Tinsley reflects on current events and life experience from a faith perspective. Visit www.tinsleycenter.com. Email bill@tinsleycenter.com.

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Bailey Jones

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